Sunday, March 30, 2008

Vitas in Shanghai

In the wake of a recent performance in Shanghai by Russian opera singer Vitas, The Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center recently ran an adaptation of the play Lend Me a Tenor, calling it Lend Me a Vitas.

Eight characters, six doors (well, five doors and a window). It was a classic farce, and very well played. I have not seen the original play in English, so cannot say that the translation was necessarily very accurate, but it worked very well on the stage here. It was a very funny piece, and the actors pulled it off very well. Their timing was impeccable, and the fun with disguises and misunderstandings worked well in this performance.

Last night was the final show for this run. It was a good one. There are still lots of plays coming up at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center this season. If you get a chance to see one, you won't be disappointed. You'll be in for a quality performance at a very nice venue.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

In the Shadow of Beethoven

Friday, 4 April 2008, The Singapore Symphony Orchestra will be presenting In the Shadow of Beethoven at the Esplanade.

Clause Peter Flor will be conducting. You'll want to catch Zhang Manchin on viola, and Ma Yue on clarinet. The programme includes pieces by Wagner, Bruch, and Brahms, and promises to be a good night at the symphony.

Tickets are priced at prices ranging from $11-60. Book now at the Esplanade Website.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Maglev, Shanghai

I recently took the Maglev in Shanghai for the first time. It is incredible how quick the magnetic train travels. I took a few pictures to show how fast it builds up to its top speed of 431 km/hr. The first photo is taken a couple of minutes before we left.

As you can see, the train not only moves at a very high speed, but it builds up to it very quickly too.

The trip from the Long Yang Station to the airport takes more than half an hour driving. It takes 8 minutes on the Maglev.

With the recent lowering of prices, and the 20% discount for passengers who have a plane ticket for that day, the magnetic train is really the way to go when making your way from the airport into town (or vice versa).

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Shanghai Grand Theater, the Studio

I was at the Studio Theater in Shanghai Grand Theater tonight for the first time. I have seen several performances in the main hall in the past, but this was my first time in the smaller, more intimate setting of the Studio.

The show tonight was good enough, and the actor who played the lead was very good. As good as she was, though, she couldn't quite cover up for a weak script. I am not sure (yet) exactly what didn't work in the story line, for me, so I'll leave that for another post.

What I did find very impressive, besides the performance of the actors, was the venue. The Studio is a small cozy little place for a performance. It makes you feel like you are right in the middle of it all, and really pulls the audience into a performance. The seating tonight was good, but I noticed after the show that it was all on collapsible risers, meaning that it is possible to rearrange it to suit whatever is on the program for that particular night. Tonight's show had a pretty straightforward set up for the seating, but I could imagine doing something really creative with that in order to make good use of the whole space of the theater. Even with the rather traditional seating of tonight's show, I felt that the actors are so close to the audience that they are still able to make use of what you would normally think of as the "audience's space." It almost felt as if we were actually in the girl's apartment for the duration of the show.

The lights and sound system were top-notch too. Tonight's performance made good use of both, though there were a couple of times I thought the cast might have missed their spots with the lighting. (Always a risk when you make use of so many changes in lighting.) The sound effects were all very nicely arranged, with phones ringing, sirens wailing, and voices calling from various points on and off the stage. That made for an interesting way to change the pace of the production from time to time. For much of the play, there was only one person on stage, and she carried her part beautifully. But I do think that without these changes of pace offered by the various sound and lighting effects, the thin plot would have slowed down to nearly a standstill.

I think that tonight's production was a case where the venue really went into "making" the show. I can imagine writing dramatic texts specifically for that setting. It is the sort of place a playwright could quickly fall in love with.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

More From Goethe In Italy

In my last post, I quoted Goethe at length, from his Letters From Italy. I found a number of passages in the collection as I read that must feel very familiar to anyone who has spent a good deal of time traveling. It is amazing — it seems like things don't really change that much in 250 years after all. Things like these are still quite resonant for a traveler today:

At present, I am preoccupied with sense-impressions to which no book or picture can do justice. The truth is that, in putting my powers of observation to the test, I have found a new interest in life.

But only in ancient times, when a people were more of a people than today, can [this amphitheatre] have made its full effect. Such an amphitheatre, in fact, is properly designed to impress people with itself, to make them feel at their best.

My purpose in making this wonderful journey is not to delude myself but to discover myself in the objects I see.

When one lives far away, one hears only of the major artists in the galaxy and is often satisfied with merely knowing their names; but when one draws closer, the twinkle of stars of the second and third magnitude becomes visible until, finally, one sees the whole constellation — the world is wider and richer than one had hitherto supposed.

There is something diving about [Pallidio's] talent, something comparable to the power of a great poet who, out of the worlds of truth and falsehood, creates a third whose borrowed existence enchants us.

So now, thank God, Venice is no longer a mere word to me, an empty name, a state of mind which has so often alarmed me who am the mortal enemy of mere words.

At last I can really enjoy the solitude I have been longing for, because nowhere can one be more alone than in a large crowd through which one pushes one's way, a complete stranger.

The lagoons may be gradually silting up and unhealthy miasmas hovering over their marshes, their trade may be declining, their political power dwindling, but this republic will never become a whit less venerable in the eyes of one observer. Venice, like everything else which has a phenomenal existence, is subject to time.

The art of the mosaic, which gave the Ancients their paved floors and the Christians the vaulted Heaven of their churches, has now been degraded to snuffboxes and bracelets. Our times are worse than we think.

All that intelligence and hard work created in times past, intelligence and hard work have now to preserve.

There is much in this record, I know, which I could have described more accurately, amplified and improved, but I shall leave everything as it stands because first impressions, even if they are not always correct, are valuable and precious to us.

I have only just realized how bold I was to travel unprepared and alone through this country. The different currencies, the vetturini, the prices, the wretched inns are a daily nuisance, and anyone who travels alone for the first time, hoping for uninterrupted pleasures, is bound to be often disappointed and have much to put up with. But, after all, my one wish has been to see this country at any cost and, were I to be dragged to Rome on Ixion's wheel, I should not utter a single word of complaint.

[A]s soon as one sees with one's own eyes the whole which one had hitherto only known in fragments and chaotically, a new life begins.

So let me seize things one by one as they come; they will sort themselves out later.

Nothing, above all, is comparable to the new life that a reflective person experiences when he observes a new country. Though I am still always myself, I believe that I have been changed to the very marrow of my bones.

The above quotations are from Goethe's Italian Journey, 1786-1788, as translated by W. H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer and published in 1962.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

When Their Husbands Were Far Away From Home...

I've been reading through W. H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer's translation of Goethe's Letters from Italy for the past few days. I found a passage there that is quite beautiful. (There are several, and I will probably share more quotations from Goethe's letters in this blog at a later date.)

Goethe, in this passage, has just talked about his own experiences listening to the singers on the canals of Venice. He has mentioned often in the narrative how loudly they sing, and has explained how the perfect method of listening to the singers is to stand equidistance between them, hearing their song as a dialogue between two voices. He then describes a scene that his friend is encouraging him to witness first hand, saying:

"He wanted me to hear the women on the Lido, especially those from Malamocco and Pellestrina. They too, he told me, sing verses by Tasso to the same or a similar melody, and added: 'It is their custom to sit on the seashore while their husbands are out sea-fishing, and sing these songs in penetrating tones until, from far out over the sea, their men reply, and in this way they converse with each other.' Is this not a beautiful custom? I dare say that, to someone standing close by, the sound of such voices, competing with the thunder of the waves, might not be very agreeable. But the motive behind such singing is so human and genuine that it makes the mere notes of the melody, over which scholars have racked their brains in vain, come to life. It is the cry of some lonely human being sent out into the wide world till it reaches the ears of another lonely human being who is moved to answer it."

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Loving and Lying

Last night I was at the opening night for the play Loving and Lying, directed by Zhou Ke. It was a 2-actor show (Zhao Lixin and Song Ruhui), and was very well done.

Both actors did an outstanding job in their respective roles, but most viewers seemed to find the male actor the more outstanding of the two. I can certainly say he was more animated and versatile, but I am not so sure that it doesn't have more to do with how the script was written, rather than with the respective actors. Either way, the contrast between the two was a perfect balance.

The show will be running till March 28, and tickets are listed as "hot selling," so hurry and book now to avoid disappointment. The venue is the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center (288 An Fu Rd.). Tickets are 120RMB on weeknights, and 150RMB on weekends. Students can view the show at half price.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Receiving Guests When You Stay Overseas

I've lived overseas since I graduated from university, most of that time being in Singapore. Over the past 5 years or so, I've split time between Singapore and Shanghai, and am currently in Shanghai for this semester doing some language studies.

When you live overseas, it is a common thing to receive guests from your home country. It can vary, whether that is a good thing or bad. I've had surprise guests come in who I didn't even know, but were friends of one family member or another. That can always be interesting. But over the 15 years that I've been living overseas, it's mostly been fun when I've had guests come in from home to see me. This past week, my best friend and her children (my godchildren) came from Singapore to Shanghai to visit me, and we had lots of fun.

When you have guests, there are always some things to think of in order to get the place ready to receive them. It's great if you can do so well enough to avoid mishaps, but that doesn't always work out. You can minimize the risk of unpleasant thigs by thinking of a few things:

• always have a standby plan for meals, such as a favorite restaurant you can bring your guests to and know you'll get good food and good service

• make good plans for transportation, whether public transportation, private car, or walking (most of my guests like to try out various forms of public transportation, so I try to think of that in advance)

• make sure and have extra towels, toiletries, etc., on hand for your guests, so that they won't be inconvenienced if they forgot anything

• try to visit some places with your guests that you've never been — it will be interesting for you too, that way

• make sure and leave a bit of free time, in case something goes wrong and you need to reschedule a visit to one place or another (that happened during this recent visit, and we spent one day "making up for disappointments")

• relax and enjoy your guests — ultimately it's more about the time spent together than it is about how exciting and itinerary you can plan

Those are some of the things I always try to keep in mind when I have guests coming. There might be other things to consider too, but I find that if I do these things when I have guests coming, it makes the visit a lot of fun.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Lan Zhou Lamb Soup

Since I arrived in Shanghai for this extended stay (about 3 weeks so far, and 9 more to go), I have found myself almost addicted to Lan Zhou cooking. Lan Zhou is a province in Northwest China, north of Sichuan and west of Tibet. The food that I have tried at the various Lan Zhou stalls in Shanghai is really fantastic. I haven't been to Lan Zhou before, so I can't say that it is very authentic or anything. But it is really good, all the same.

My favorite dish has to be the lamb soup. It is especially appetizing on a cold day, because it not only warms you up at the time of eating, but seems to keep you warm the rest of the day. The soup has thin slices of mutton, sliced tomatoes, leafy green vegetables, glass noodles, and (my favorite) a sort of flat bread cut up into the soup. In some ways, it is a bit like tortilla soup, with its rich base and the thin bread there to soak it up. But in another way, it is its own thing all together, with the Lan Zhou herbs spicing it up.

It seems that I am not the only one who likes Lan Zhou lamb soup. The last 2 times I've tried to order it (at 2 different stalls), it was already sold out!

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Shi Wei Guan

Shi Wei Guan restaurant on Cao Xi Lu in Shanghai has lots to offer if you like to eat traditional Chinese dumplings. The "tang bao" at Shi Wei Guan is pretty special. Not only is it nearly as big as the plate it comes on, and not only do you have to lift the plate to your mouth in order to drink the soup from the dumpling, but the soup itself is also very special because it is made from crab rather than typical (rather oily) meat base. It is really a treat to taste the tang bao at Shi Wei Guan, with it paper-thin skin wrapped around the tasty crab soup.

Another menu item you won't want to miss there is the steamed king shrimp dumplings. These dumplings rank very high amongst guests to Shi Wei Guan — it certainly hit the mark with everyone at my table. The shrimp were very good, and the translucent white skin was just the right covering for their red, tender meat.

One very amusing item on the menu is the mixed bag of dumpling flavors. You can get all 5 flavors in one bamboo tray, and in that way get to try several different kinds. The assortment includes loofa dumplings, herbal dumplings, goose liver dumplings, crab dumplings, and the traditional Shanghai flavored dumpling. Each one is a different color, so it is easy to tell what you are eating. My favorite was, again, the crab dumpling.

One last not-to-miss item is the beef soup. It was really delicious, and worth trying. There are 10 items for which the restaurant is known (thus the name), and I didn't get to try them all. All of these items are on the "big 10" list, though, and were really good. If the rest are true to what I sampled here, then I think you can't miss if you choose from the 10 specialties.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

We Will Rock You, the musical

March 28 - April 13
Onstage in Singapore
You can see the musical
We Will Rock You

The musical uses the music of Queen, with a sci-fi type story. It had a great run in London, and I think it will have a good run in Singapore as well.

Singing in the lead is Mig Ayesa, who placed 3rd in the show Rockstar: INXS a few years ago. I remember at the time liking Mig, but feeling that he didn't suit what INXS needed in a lead singer. It seems that he has found the perfect place to put his talents to use now. Mig singing live onstage, in a musical built around Queen's songs... it couldn't be a better match.

Tickets range from $40 to $170. Book early, and enjoy the show!

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